How To Treat Your Mental Game Like Your Physical Game

In Discipline
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You’ve heard the cliches about performance being 90% mental and 10% physical or something close to that ratio. I agree with this cliche, give or take a few percentage points on a case-by-case basis.

You hear people like me stressing the importance of the Mental Game to compliment the physical.

But it’s difficult for us to key in on the Mental Game, for the following two reasons.

  1. We can’t see or touch our minds, which makes them easier to ignore than our bodies. If you’d stayed out of the gym for a few weeks/months, you could look in the mirror (or finally go for a workout) and see/feel the results of that neglect — which may or may not inspire you to get back in the gym. Regardless of your response, you could never claim to not know that those effects were present, because they’d be self-evident, right there in your face. With your Mental Game, while you can feel what’s going on up there in your head, you can’t see or touch it. Many people are two-dimensional thinkers: what they can’t see and touch, they pay less attention to — because they have a hard time understanding it. This difference makes the Mental Game much easier to neglect for many people.
  2. No one (including yourself) can assess your mindset any further than you’re willing to share or be honest about what’s (really) going on. This is what makes the Mental Game much harder to coach. As a physical trainer — let’s say a person who works with athletes, for example — I can watch you run across the field or shoot the ball and tell you where change needs to be applied. You may disagree, but I have objective information — what we can see with our eyes — to support my stance. In the Mental Game, nothing is objective. There’s no indisputable footage to support an argument; everything is based on perception. As a Mental Game coach, my ability to help you is often limited to what you’re willing to share about what’s going on in your head and/or your openness to hearing my observation of what I see from you. Anything you don’t share, refuse to agree with or that you don’t tell me the truth about, we can’t address. This is how someone could have a therapist or coach for years and still not get results. Maybe the hired expert just isn’t that good; maybe the person being coached just isn’t being open enough.

I said in The Mental Handbook that The Mental is to the physical as 3 is to 1. An on-point mindset can make up for (some of) what we lack physically.

Assuming you’re on your own, then, without a coach, how can you give the proper attention to your Mental Game so it can be on par with, or even surpass, your physical game?

That’s the topic of this article.

Routines create results.

If you’re in solid physical shape, there are some things you do consistently, such as getting rest, eating certain foods, and exercising.

Those routines, executed consistently, create consistent results that are reflected in the look of your body and in your performance. You rarely get off of your routines, and you’d feel awkward if you did. The routines are what got you where you are, after all.

These routines not only support your physical performance, but give you peace of mind and confidence that you’re ready to perform.

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What are your Mental Game routines? What do you routinely do mentally to get your mind ready to perform and deliver? Mental Game routines are similar to warm-up routines for exercise or playing sports: they’re letting your mind know that it’s almost time to perform, and you want it ready for action. The routines you create in practice will make it that much easier when it’s time for a game, because there’s one less variable you’ll need to consider. It’s routine.

If you don’t have any mental routines, create some. Some ideas (these are covered in The Mental Workbook):

  • Meditation
  • Reading goals lists
  • Vision boards
  • Affirmations
  • Autosuggestion

Stats don’t lie.

If your body fat was 7% percent three years ago, yet it’s 15% today, you wouldn’t argue that you’re leaner and more “cut-up” now than you were back then.

If you used to run an 8:30 mile and now you’re struggling to make it in 9:15, you’re clearly slower now — not faster.

There’s (usually) no debate when we’re dealing with physical, tangible outputs.

Why? The numbers are staring you in the face. There’s no arguing the facts.

With tangible elements, like physical performance, money and time, we can be objective (most of the time) and look at the numbers in front of us. With the Mental Game, things are not so simple.

There’s one variable in the Mental Game that is always the determining factor in the accuracy of our assessments: how honest we are willing to be with ourselves.

In sports, the closest thing we have to Mental “stats” is focus. The commonly used phrase is being “ready to play.” Being ready to play is more than putting on your uniform and going through warm-ups. It’s about getting into the mental space where you know what you’re set to do, and your mind and body are aligned in attacking the task at hand.

We can’t measure focus in other people, but all humans have a sixth sense for when a person is locked in. We instinctively move out of their way and follow their lead, as their energy is telling us that they know where they’re going (even if they end up wrong, or losing in the situation).

Focus is a force multiplier: it takes all your present abilities and enhances them — not just for you, but in how everyone else responds to you.

Focus can be — and should be — practiced for the same reason stated earlier: one less thing to worry about.

Actually, when you’re truly focused, worry is impossible. You won’t even have to think.

Start using focus as your Mental Game stat.

Engage consistently.

If you follow the aforementioned two points, this one should take care of itself: consciously engage your Mental Game as often as you do your physical game.

Actually, engage your Mental Game every time you engage your physical game.

What this means:

  • No more going through the motions tasks like lazing through routine workouts, or mindlessly doing things at work just to do them or just because you’ve always done them. These bad habits dull your mind’s sharp edge.
  • Practice your game focus before the day of the game. Simple enough of an idea, but many fledgling performers don’t understand the value of this until they get into a performance and see how unready they were — mentally — for the experience. A sports team practices running their plays for weeks before a game, so there’s smooth execution when the game happens. Do the same with your mind.

Ancillary decisions.

I had a really talented basketball teammate who had an NBA player-level skill set.

He could shake any defender off the dribble. Shoot with great range. Athletic enough to finish over anyone. A capable defender when we wanted to be. Worst-case, this guy should have had a 10-year career playing overseas.

He flunked out of college and never played anywhere.

And not because he forgot how to play basketball.

Every mistake this player made to derail is career potential, happened off the court.

If all he needed to do to make it was what he did on the court, this guy was the closest of anyone I’ve ever known personally to a can’t-miss prospect.

His ancillary decisions destroyed his opportunities.

You wouldn’t (purposely) get only 2 hours of sleep, or get drunk, the night before an important presentation, meeting or game. That would hurt your chances of doing well.

Business professionals invest in professional development: attending conferences, reading books, learning from those more experienced, all for the payoff of better work performance and higher returns on their efforts.

Athletes invest in trainers: pay the trainer now; perform well; get paid even more on the back end.

It’s the same with your mind: the decisions you make around your Mental Game play a big role in how you do in your Mental Game.

  • Getting focused consistently, to where you can do so on-call.
  • Knowing your routines and not allowing anything or anyone to break them.
  • Feeding your mind materials that will better facilitate your mental performance instead of making it harder.

Making the right or wrong ancillary decisions can help boost — or torpedo — your Mental Game performance just as easily as what you do directly with your Mental Game.

Choose wisely.


The Mental Game is a challenging subject for many people because it’s hard to gain clarity on what’s going on up there between our ears.

And, the more apps and other media that comes out every day just makes this harder and harder to do; we’re growing ever-more distracted.

Hopefully this article has shed some light on how you can sharpen your own Mental Game and get it working in your favor.

See the resources below for more.

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PS – I’m doing a FREE, live event at Books And Books Coral Gables (Miami) on June 22: It Takes More Than Hard Work. I’ll be discussing my book Work On Your Game, autographing any books purchased on-site, taking photos and answering questions in a live Q&A. Register for the free event here.